Offenders to restore region’s crumbling drystone

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CRIMINALS in North Yorkshire will be trained to repair the county’s deteriorating drystone walls as part of their efforts to make amends to the local community.

The Building Blocks scheme to operate in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Yorkshire Dales could mean offenders getting a certificate from a local college and possibly going on to receive community training.

Those who have committed minor offences will be allowed to take part in the ‘community payback’ scheme which has received new funding from North Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan.

She has also given funding to a project which will see a private security firm deploy drug-detection dogs into the pubs and clubs of Harrogate to help combat the use of illicit substances.

The scheme led by K9 Patrol, a canine specialist security services company based in Knaresborough, was piloted in November but will now see more regular patrols.

Mrs Mulligan said the case of Leeds dentistry student Mariam Khesroh, who died after taking a cocktail of drugs on a night out in Harrogate last year, “highlights just how dangerous drugs can be”.

The 24-year-old Leeds University student was abandoned by friends to die next to some bins after a drugs overdose. Despite being in a group when she started to have trouble breathing during a night out in Harrogate, no-one sought medical help.

Mrs Mulligan said: “When drugs are mixed with alcohol, the effects can be equally devastating. I am therefore very keen to support the local community in combatting drug use.”

Both projects are being funded by the police and crime commissioner’s community fund, where local charities, community groups and individuals can bid for any amount between £500 and £20,000. Since its launch nearly a year ago, £237,000 of money has been awarded.

The drystone walling project is one of a number of community payback schemes run across the country which give local communities the opportunity to suggest suitable areas for offenders to rejuvenate as part of their community order.

Police say the task will be “a physically demanding challenge that will also require concentration and applying newly-learnt skills”.

Those who complete the course may be encouraged to continue with their training and development by joining one of the volunteer groups in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), one of a family of protected landscapes in the UK.

Iain Mann from Nidderdale AONB said: “Drystone walls are a hugely valuable part of the Nidderdale AONB landscape but many are deteriorating and it’s an uphill battle to keep them in good repair.

“Restoring them is important for local communities because they provide livestock control, they are of significant heritage value and they help to shape the landscape of the Dales.”